80s fashion collage

FASHION IN THE 1980S

The eighties was a decade when many of the fashion trends that people love to hate were created. In complete contrast to the 1970s, shirts became looser and trousers became tighter. Hair was heavily styled, sometimes crimped and often voluminous (teased and permed to the limits!) and make-up was bold with clashing colours - almost like face paint. Some call it "the time that fashion forgot", as most laws of fashion were broken & torn to shreds.

Music Videos were a major influence for 80s fashion, as well as American TV shows such as Dynasty and Dallas - shoulder pads spring to mind! And let's not forget the fitness fad which created a huge surge in sales of legwarmers, with teen girls even wearing them over their jeans. 

On this page, you will discover many original photos from the 80s relating to the many trends and fads that existed during the decade. The eighties certainly had a very strong identity, and people weren't afraid to experiment. The early part of the decade was awash with an array of different styles in the UK, including punk (tartan, Dr. Marten Boots, leather and studs became popular), 2 tone and ska revival, and flamboyant new romantic fashion styles.

 

80s mini skirts collage

MINI SKIRTS, SKATER SKIRTS AND RA-RAS

Of course, mini skirts made their first appearance in the 1960s when they were often worn with go-go boots. During the 80s, more often than not, they were worn with legwarmers and/or leggings. Popular materials were denim and spandex and they were tight and clingy. Rah-rah's and skater skirts were particularly popular.

The ra-ra (or rah-rah) is a skirt with more than one layer (usually two or three layers/tiers, but I've seen some have six!) and during the eighties they came in a whole range of colours. Layers could be flat or in a puffed-out tutu style.

80s polka dot dresses and skirts

POLKA DOTS

Inflenced by 1950s fashion, polka dot dresses, skirts and tops were worn by royalty and pop stars alike, including Princess Diana and Strawberry Switchblade. A ra-ra/ruffle style skirt or dress with a matching polka dot hair bow and a big PVC belt around the waist would create a perfect 80s look. Original items can sometimes be found on Etsy.

Heavy 80s make-up collage

HEAVY MAKE-UP

It didn't matter whether you were male or female, wearing make-up was essential if you wanted to be fashionable in the 1980s. Boy George, Adam and the Ants and the New Romantics made it cool for men to wear eyeliner and lipstick. For the ladies, mixing bold and colourful eye shadows, eyeliner, heavy lipstick and liberal amounts of blusher was essential! Cyndi Lauper created an iconic look when she wore blue eye shadow and flame coloured hair.

Adam Ant wearing 80s make-up and war paint

80s-fashion-ideas-02

80s AEROBICS aND FITNESS FASHION

For quite a while, an aerobics craze grabbed hold of the nation, and it was created by American dance movies such as Fame and Flashdance. Jane Fonda workout videos helped fuel the 80s fashion craze and you may remember Diana Moran (nicknamed the "Green Goddess") stretching her limbs on BBC's Breakfast Time, much to the delight of presenter Frank Bough. It just looked like far too much effort for me, especially that early in the morning!

Olivia Newton-John was also at it in her controversial video for her hit song Physical. It seemed like every female wanted to join in, and we suddenly saw women appearing out on the streets in aerobics gear just to do the shopping - this was in broad daylight, too!

The 80s keep fit look for women included items such as neon-coloured, plain, pastel or stripy legwarmers that were scrunched up and worn over leggings, tights or even their jeans for a more casual style. They were also worn with mini skirts. 

The over-sized, grey sweatshirt with a large neck opening (which was ripped open and worn off-the-shoulder) became hugely popular after Jennifer Beals wore one in Flashdance.

The classic 1980s aerobics look included a headband, leotard, tights or leggings and, of course, those legwarmers.
Ladies Aerobics in the 1980s
Aerobics in 1985

Visit our 80s Workout Clothing page
Women's Retro Gym Shorts (Dolphin Shorts) with drawstring

DOLPHIN (DRAWSTRING) SHORTS

Dolphin shorts (Gym shorts) with a drawstring also became popular and were in usually in one block colour and often with a contrasting edging colour such as white. Interlock running shorts were very similar but without the drawstring. 

 

80s Shoulder Pads collage inc. Grace Jones, Princess Diana.

POWER DRESSING

80S SHOULDER PADS AND PUFFED SLEEVES

These were very scary indeed, and for a while power dressing was all the rage with power-hungry career women and the soap stars who portrayed them.
The question is, is there anyone who thinks that padded shoulders were a great idea? Surely, this has to be one of the worst fashion fads to come out of the 80s? I believe it was a "girl power" thing, and this was long before the Spice Girls came onto the scene. Women were rising through the ranks like never before, and here in Britain, of course, our country was being run by our first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.


Then there was Joan Collins who played super-bitch Alexis Carrington in Dynasty. Let's face it, any woman with broad-looking shoulders and big 80s hair was going to make any man run for cover!

With it's geometric shapes and substantial shoulder pads, the first jacket in the image above is about as eighties as you can get!
Not one to be left out of the latest fashion trends, Princess Diana also sported shoulder pads, although, she was often responsible for starting a new trend.

 

Madonna in 1984

MADONNA 80s FASHION

Madonna made a huge impact on 80s fashion, and wore crucifix jewellery, stacks of bangles and jelly bracelets on her arms, fishnet and lace materials and mini skirts.
One of her most controversial looks was when she wore her lace bra as outerwear, covered only by a mesh tank top. Fishnet tops and tights had previously been worn by the punk movement. Madonna adopted elements of punk fashion to create a bad girl image.
80s animal print clothing collage

ANIMAL PRINT CLOTHES

Animal print was also a popular choice in the eighties for both men and women, particularly leopard, zebra and snake. It featured on skirts, leggings, dresses, jackets and well, just about anything wearable! Metal bands loved it, too, and at least one member of most bands could be seen wearing animal print.
80s Hair Metal Band Cinderella
Here we see 80s glam metal band Cinderella donning animal print trousers and accessories on their 1986 album Night Songs.
1980s - Girl in a zebra print dress with batwing sleeves
This original photo from the 1980s shows a girl wearing a zebra print dress with batwing sleeves.
An original 1980s ra-ra dress by C&A (UK)

An original 1980s ra-ra dress by C&A (UK) 

Original 80s Zebra Print and Cheese PLant Print Dress with batwing sleeves

An original 1980s batwing sleeve zebra and cheese plant print dress 

You can see many more skirts on our Ladies Fancy Dress pages
80s ray-ban sunglasses - Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson and Madonna

RAY BAN SUNGLASSES

There has been something of a resurgence in this 80s fashion trend in recent years. When I was 14 years old back in 1982 I bought a pair of cheap mirror lens shades from the local market. Street Markets were really popular back in the eighties (in the UK, at least) as there were no chain pound stores or numerous discount clothing superstores on the high street like today.

Ray Ban sunglasses were also popular and worn by many of the pop stars and film stars of the day, but I suspect that a good many of us ordinary folk bought cheaper replicas.

It's nice to see that Ray Bans (particularly Wayfarer), Aviators / Mirror Lens sunglasses are popular once again, along with so many other 80's clothes.

Tom Cruise wearing Ray-Ban wayfarer sunglasses in the 1983 film Risky Business


DEELY BOPPERS / BOBBERS

Invented by Stephen Askin in 1981, teeny boppers (also called bobbers) sold in their millions. Basically, it was just a headband with two, bouncy martian-like antennae protruding from it. Quite why everyone felt the need to look like a little green man I've no idea!

There were many variations with lights and pom poms being particularly popular. They're still worn by party-goers today and,  no doubt, should you risk venturing out onto the streets on a weekend night there will be, at least, one hen party wearing them.

Deely Bobbers
Photo by Jim Lane (self-made (the model has consented)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Duran Duran on the cover of their self-titled debut album

THE NEW ROMANTIC SCENE

New Romanticism was flourishing in the early eighties, and was born in the nightclubs of London such as The Blitz and Billy's. We saw flamboyant men wearing frilly shirts, eye-liner and other forms of make-up. 70s glam rock was a big influence for the look, whilst Kraftwerk influenced the sound, with many (but not all) acts using synthesizers and electronic drums to create their music.

New Romantic Hair Style 80s
Japan Quiet Life - New Romantic Fashion

Above we see some typical New Romantic hair styles. On the left is some bloke I've never seen before wearing a dodgy wig, and on the right is the cover of Quiet Life by Japan, featuring a very typical fashion look from the early 80s where we see the hair sweeping over one eye. Quite often the hair was also cut shorter on one side of the head.

One of the earliest examples of New Romanticism can be seen in the video Planet Earth by Duran Duran.

Holly Johnson,.Peter Gill and Mark O' Toole wearing Frankie Say War! Hide Yourself T-shirts


80s SLOGAN T-SHIRTS

CHOOSE LIFE AND RELAX

In 1984, whilst Wham made the "Choose Life" T-Shirt popular, Frankie Goes to Hollywood made the Frankie Say Relax T-Shirt even more popular!

Pepsi and Shirlie, the backing singers with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley's Wham! made the Katherine Hamnett "GO GO" and "Choose Life" t-shirt famous by wearing them in the video for the 80s hit single 'Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go)'.

Photo: Holly Johnson with Paul Rutherford who is modelling a "Frankie Say War! Hide Yourself" T-Shirt, which was designed by Frankie Goes To Hollywood's PR manger (and co-founder of ZTT records) Paul Morley. The design was based on Katherine Hamnett's slogan T-shirts, and also included "Frankie Say Arm The Unemployed" and, of course, the more popular "Frankie Say Relax". Unofficial tees with the slogan "Frankie Says Relax" (to avoid copyright infringement) also became popular during 1984 due to the lower prices.

George Michael wearing a Choose Life T-shirt in the 80s

George Michael wearing a Choose Life T-shirt with rolled up sleeves.

George Michael wearing a Choose Life T-shirt - with Andrew Ridgeley

 

These days there are more Wham style T-shirts available than ever before, with lots of variations of the original "Choose Life" message and also available in a whole array of colours.


ACID WASHED JEANS


This is one 80s fashion craze I'd rather forget about. The trend for yukky acid wash jeans was popular from the mid to late 80's and into the early 90's before they died a quick death.

The process involves washing denim with chlorine using a pumice stone and was invented by the Rifle Jeans company in Italy. They were often worn with motorcycle jackets or fringe jackets (cowboy/country music style leather jackets with lots of tassles) by heavy metal and rock bands, although plenty of non-rock acts (such as Bros and Salt N' Pepa) also jumped in on the trend. Acid Washed jeans made a bit of a comeback during the late noughties.

Kylie Minogue in tight-rolled jeans in 1989

TIGHT-ROLLED JEANS

Also known as pegged jeans/pants, during the late 80s and into the early 90s both males and females decided to tight roll the bottom of their jeans 2 or 3 times over. If you tight-rolled a pair of acid-washed jeans then you were ultra-trendy!

Rolling-up the bottom of your jeans is something that is still popular amongst some youngsters today. It's also a good excuse for me to claim that I'm being trendy when I've bought a pair of jeans that are too long for me!

Debbie Gibson wearing acid washed denim in the 1980s

LEVI'S 501 DENIM JEANS and JACKETS

An original pair of Levi's 501 acid-washed high waisted jeans from the 80s
An original pair of acid-washed, high-waisted 501's
1980s Levi's 501 Denim Jacket
Levi's 501 Denim Jacket from the 80s

The 1985 advert featuring Nick Kamen (see the video playlist at the top of the page) dramatically increased sales of Levi's 501 jeans in the mid 80's. Nick Kamen also had a #5 hit single in 1986 with Each Time You Break My Heart which was written and produced by Madonna and Stephen Bray.

After this success, ads featuring old classics by artists such as Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Ben E. King and Percy Sledge also boosted sales of both Levi's and vinyl records during 1986 and 1987.

80's pin badges
Denim jackets were often covered with pin badges


PIXIE BOOTS

Pixie Boots featured pointy toes and fold-over cuffs and were extremely popular with girls in the early eighties in the UK. I don't believe these caught on in the U.S. Such boots are still available to buy today, allowing you to create an uber cool retro style.

80s Pixie Boots

An original pair of 80s pixie boots 

If your wore a a Miami Vice suit with rolled-up sleeves with boxer shorts underneath, then you were the coolest guy in town!

A Jumpsuit worn with a belt around the waist was the height of fashion in the 80s.

Take a look back at heavily styled, voluminous hair, wedges, spiral perms and many other crazy styles!

During the 80s fitness craze no girl was without a pair of leg warmers.

These bizarre-looking skirts were pretty awkward to look at and to wear, but it didn't stop Princess Diana from wearing one.

From Nike to Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Hi-tops, a look at the brands that were popular back in the day.

Just about every guy wanted a suit with flecks of white or different colours all over it - just don't ask me why!

Big spiral perms, crimps and peroxide blonde locks weren't just for the ladies!

 

 

Create a Flashdance Costume 

Oversized 80s Off Shoulder
Batwing Sweatshirt

 

Black Stirrup Leg Warmers for Flashdance Costume

Black Leg Warmers 

 

Popular Tees 

 

Choose Life Wham Hamnett 80s T-shirt

 

 

80s Tutu Skirt, Leg Warmers, Fu=ishnet Gloves
This ladies MTV Music Television logo vest top is one of the most popular 80s tops at Amazon UK. The music video channel launched on 1st August 1981, and that logo is now iconic.